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From nomadic pastoralists to thriving producers of milk and milk products

A story of nomadic pastoralists who turned a cultural thing embedded in them from birth into a huge enterprise that has not only impacted them positively but their community at large.

Have you heard of SiLe Dairy? Well, you should know the enterprise because if you don’t, then you’re missing out on some of the best milk products and if you are a lover of yogurt, theirs will blow your mind – more appropriately, your taste buds.

SiLe Dairy; a name coined from the names of their first-born daughter Simaton and second-born son Lepatei is a milk enterprise founded by Mr & Mrs. Lepatei. It did not begin as an enterprise though; no! It began with two young people born of nomadic pastoralists in the Maasai community and they didn’t know anything else but that life so they became exactly that; nomadic pastoralists. When their paths crossed, they were herded together for a long time as a cultural thing without big dreams or even images of what this cultural thing can turn into until the tables turned on them and one thing led to another.

As a result of drought brought about by shortage of rain, there was a lack of pasture hence no milk, negative effect on their livelihood, and only expenses to maintain their cows. This drove the couple to look into diversifying their farming; yes, despite the scarce rain. A move was driven by what the husband proudly defines as the resilience of Mary Lepatei; the wife.  There came maize farming; 3 seasons with no rain and then in the 4th season, light shone on them and the skies poured enabling them a harvest of 107 bags. With pastoralism and livestock farming flowing in their veins, this created an opportunity for income which facilitated the purchase of cows to get back to what they have a knack for. This was a smart move as they managed to start using maize stock as part of feeds instead of the stocks going to waste or giving them away. Mrs. Lepatei set up poultry farming as well which increased their income and improved their livelihood and capacity to keep more cows. They were however suffering losses from poor livestock farming methods but an opportunity to learn came knocking on their door; the Nairobi Agricultural Show in 2015.

At the agricultural Show, Mr & Mrs. Lepatei learned of livestock farming practices and especially, what to feed cows, how, and when. On this, they understood that 70% of successful livestock farming is feeding and only 30% is breed & gene-related. Progressively, the couple moved from producing 3 Liters of Milk per day to 16 and in no time, they were milking 300 Liters per day. In Kajiado, they became known for quality milk and were supplying it to homes, hotels, and even firms. The wake of COVID-19 hit them hard though and left them stranded with 170 Liters of Milk as a result of many firms and hotels closing down. After a feature by Alex Chamwada, E4Impact saw an opportunity to do what they do best – build impact entrepreneurs and for this couple, the solution was value addition.

After a period of working together and facilitation through training on various aspects, mentorship, and capacity building, Mr & Mrs. Lepatei put the knowledge acquired to work and SiLe Dairy was officially born. The enterprise is currently producing four products; yogurt, mala, ghee, and fresh milk. To add to this, the couple produces their own animal feeds; by applying the knowledge they have gained to ensure that they are in control of what their cows feed on hence, assuring the quality of milk produced – remember, 70% quality is determined by what they eat. Mary Lepatei has gone on to start an initiative dubbed Seed Multiplication Program through which she empowers women and she has had a huge impact on women in Kajiado.

This story is a demonstration that everyone is the core element in building a life for themselves and creating impact and that we may not need to look so far; just within. These nomadic pastoralists have turned what is a cultural thing embedded in them since birth into a huge enterprise that has not only impacted them positively but their community at large.

What’s your SiLe Dairy in waiting?

By Wanjiru Kaburu, Communication & Marketing Lead – E4Impact Center, Kenya.